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What Does A Net Zero Hotel Look Like?



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What Does A Net Zero Hotel Look Like?

At COP26 in Glasgow, the global tourism industry committed to halving emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. In addition, a recent survey found that over three-quarters of travelers say they want to travel more sustainably in the coming year. 

And the accommodation sector is listening.

In this infographic for our sponsor,, we look at how hotels might evolve to meet the climate challenge. 

Saving the Climate, One Light Bulb at a Time

The data in this graphic comes from a recent study by EY-Parthenon (commissioned by that identified a number of existing carbon-saving initiatives that accommodations could adopt right now to reduce their carbon footprint. 

While no single initiative can bring a hotel’s emissions to zero, taken together they add up to big savings. Collectively, the entire sector could reduce their emissions by 48 million tonnes CO2-eq, equivalent to removing 10.7 million gas-powered cars from the road for a year.

Here is the full list of 24 carbon-saving initiatives considered in the report.

InitiativePotential GHG Emissions Reduction (tonnes CO2-eq)
Retrofit efficient HVAC system35-130
Install energy efficient appliances8-30
Install double-pane windows7-25
Install sunshading on windows1-25
Install low-flow fixtures4-19
Use energy efficient lighting3-9
Turn off minibars by default4-8
Opt-out of daily towel & linen changes3-7
Install (more) insulation1-7
Reduce laundry temperature2-4
Electrify vehicle fleet3-4
Recycle waste2-3
Install smart lift software1-3
Install key card switch in guest rooms1-2
Install motion sensors in corridors for lighting0.4-2
Install efficient pool pumps0.8-1
Place a pool cover0.7-1
Install dual flush toilets0.3-1
Introduce paperless procedures~0.7
Limit food waste~0.7
Eliminate disposables0.4-0.6
Collect rainwater0.021-0.033
Develop native gardens0.008-0.013
Install smart irrigation system0.06-0.013

Individual Results May Vary

Not every initiative will apply to every operation, and the actual impact will vary according to the size of the hotel and where it is located. A Canadian hotel would use more heating than one located in the sunny Bahamas, for example.

At the same time, the impact will depend on several scalable metrics, such as the number of rooms or windows.

But to give you some idea of the individual impact, a full-service hotel with 100 rooms, a pool, and a garden, based in a tropical climate, could reduce their carbon footprint by 215 tonnes CO2-eq.

Taking Stock

If you’ve stayed at a hotel recently, you may have seen some of these initiatives in action. 

Energy-efficient lighting, for example, is almost an industry standard and has been implemented in over 80% of accommodations. Pool covers on the other hand, have been implemented in under 30%, perhaps due to the lack of awareness of that option. Overall, the global adoption average is 45%.

But even that rate has already earned a climate dividend. With the current level of adoption, the sector has already eliminated 39 million tonnes CO2-eq in emissions. The 48 million tonne figure quoted earlier, would be on top of that.

OK, But How Much Does it Cost?

The tourism industry and hotels in particular were among the worst hit during the COVID-19 pandemic and are still making up lost ground. International arrivals were still down 37% in 2022, and the hotel and resort sector was worth $1.06 trillion in 2022 according to Statista, down from a 2019 peak of $1.52 trillion. 

Add inflation, a cost of living crisis, and rising energy prices and you can see why hotel owners might balk at the upfront costs of $4,750 per room or $243 billion for the entire sector. 

Even so, it’s worth noting that most of these initiatives could recover their initial investment in energy savings within 15 years. In fact, 76% of the abatement potential is associated with a positive business case. And if you factor in the climate change cachet associated with these initiatives, and the draw that a program like’s Travel Sustainable badge or a certification by the Global Sustainability Travel Council creates for travelers, hotels are beginning to see the merits of investing.

The Journey Ahead

Hotels and accommodations account for an estimated 264 million tonnes of CO2-eq in direct and controllable emissions, also known as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. So even after all these measures are implemented, there will still be 216 million tonnes of CO2-eq left to tackle. 

And with global average temperatures already 1°C above pre-industrial levels, it’ll be a big job for hotels and other accommodations to eliminate their share in time. But they have a plan on how to get there.

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Click this link to read The Road to Net Zero report and learn more about the sector’s pathway to net zero.

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